The 2022 college football season is still seven months away, but spring camp is rapidly approaching, and with it comes a host of projections and predictions for how the season will turn out.
One of the best predictors for success in college football is returning production. Of BYU, Utah or Utah State, which is best situated entering the 2022 season?
Of the three Utah schools, BYU has the most returning production, and it isn’t close. In fact, per ESPN’s latest numbers, the Cougars are tied for second in the entire country with Stanford, behind only Bowling Green.
BYU returns 97% of its production on defense (the most of any team) and 80% of its production on offense.
The formula used by ESPN’s Bill Connelly to determine those percentages can be found here.
Utah, meanwhile, comes in at No. 58, tied with Florida Atlantic and Temple and behind Pac-12 foes Stanford, Arizona State, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona.
The reigning Pac-12 champs bring back 71% of their offensive production and 61% of their defensive production.
As for Utah State, the reigning Mountain West Conference champions slot in at No. 113, with only 63% of their offensive production and 47% of their defensive production back.
The Aggies are behind nearly the entire MWC, ahead of only San Diego State, Hawaii and Nevada.
Returning production has been proven to matter. Connelly, the creator of ESPN’s SP+ ratings, has tracked the effect returning production has had on success since 2014, and the numbers paint a striking picture.
About 8% of teams (equivalent to about 11 of 131) return at least 80% of overall production each year. On average, they improve by about 5.8 adjusted points per game in the following season’s SP+ ratings. That’s pretty significant. If a team ranked 20th in SP+ last year, adding 5.8 points to its rating would have bumped it to seventh. If a team ranked 40th, it would have jumped to 15th. On the other end, about 11% of teams (roughly 14 per season) return less than 50% of their production in a given season. That results in an average drop of about 6.3 adjusted points in SP+. If a team was 10th last year, losing 6.3 points would drop it to 27th. If it was 40th, it would fall to 67th. — Connelly
There are outliers, to be sure. Last season, BYU was last in the entire FBS in terms of returning production, and the Cougars won 10 games. 2021 was an outlier of a season, though.
The 2021 season made this data awfully weird, Connelly writes. While the national average for returning production from 2014-20 was 63%, it leaped to 76% in 2021 thanks to the extra year of eligibility athletes received due to COVID-19. Whereas only six teams from 2014-20 returned more than 85% of their production (per the updated formula) and improved by an average of 11.2 adjusted points per game, a whopping 26 teams hit that mark for returning production last season. Average improvement: just 3.9 PPG. Teams such as UTSA, Fresno State, Minnesota and UCLA all improved by quite a bit while returning truckloads of 2020’s production, but a few other teams — Miami, Troy, Iowa State — regressed. When nearly everyone returns a good deal of production, the benefits obviously aren’t going to be as strong. — Connelly
This year, BYU is viewed as one of the teams most like to improve, along with NC State, SMU, Mississippi State, Fresno State, Ohio State and Iowa.
The Cougars ranked 117th in returning production last season, but still foraged out a 10-3 record. Now they’ve got all the experience they didn’t have a year ago. — Connelly
The teams most likely to regress include Ole Miss, USC, Cincinnati, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Georgia.